Notes on Short Film

Lengthy diatribe on brief cinematic experience.

Posts Tagged ‘gus van sant

8 No Time Left

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Cinema cannot make the world better, but more aware, yes. – Gaspar Noe

This is the overarching theme of the 8 No Time Left campaign, in which eight filmmakers produced eight short films about the Millenium Development Goals set by the UN in September of 2000. By 2015, they hope to cut world poverty in half. The issues the filmmakers explore include poverty, education, equality, child mortality, maternal health, HIV/AIDS, environmental sustainability, and development. (You can read more about the No Time Left project on their website.)

I’d like to focus on two of the films included in this project, by two auteurs with distinct filmmaking styles, Mansion on the Hill (2008) by Gus Van Sant and The Water Diary (2006) by Jane Campion.

Honestly, I’m not sure I see the connection between a skateboarding montage and child mortality. The information Van Sant includes in the film is startling, and I can appreciate the simple way he reveals his purpose to the audience – with statistics in bold white lettering across a montage of young adults testing their limits. The only connection I could reach for is that many children will not get the chance to try things like skateboarding, because they’ll never reach the age to do so. In developed countries we take advantage of our time for leisure and ability to try any activity, while Third World countries struggle to meet the physiological needs of their younger generations. The simplicity, short length, and nonfictional nature of this short stands in stark contrast to Jane Campion’s short.

This film blew me away. Campion tells a much larger story about resources and sustainability through the eyes of a child dealing with the hardship of extreme drought and global warming in a diary format. The film has incredible pathos to move people to action; it is fiction, but it is believable fiction that represents a coming reality. The film includes great visual effects, like the scene where the children are leaping over clouds formed along the ground. My favorite part of this film is the way Campion framed many of the wide shots; when the protaganist finds out her parents had to kill their horses, the camera is so far away that the conflict between characters is going on down in the bottom left corner of the screen, while the audience can see the barren landscape these people exist in. She frames another scene, of Felicity playing her viola, through the window of her house at night, beautifully focusing our attention on this central figure offering hope to her community. The last shot, where Felicity plays on the hill as the clouds behind her gradually darken, offer the audience a glimpse of ambiguous hope (I’m thinking of the very last scene of Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster Inception) even as it visually suggests “dark days” are still ahead. This film is one of my favorites from this entire semester.

You can find more information on the anthology on the United Nations Development Program website, and on the Sydney Morning Herald’s website.

The Discipline of D.E. (1982)

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My first experience with Gus Van Sant was Elephant (2003) and while this is a vastly different experience, The Discipline of D.E. (1982) makes me consider this filmmaker’s work in a while new way. Offering a stark contrast to cinema verite, this film playfully attempts to remove the truth and imperfections from everyday routines. Where the cinema verite movement wanted the raw feeling of spontaneous human action, Van Sant is instructing viewers how to remove the spontaneity and clumsiness from their lives. It is a comment on the artificiality of filmmaking. In a movie, an actor never trips unless the narrative calls for it. If the actor does trip, the director calls for another take and the action must happen all over again. Why do we allow this to be the case if cinema is meant to capture real life? Maybe because human imperfections would distract viewers from a carefully-crafted message? How much do we need to refine that message in order to transmit to an audience? On his own blog, Jason Kohl says this of Van Sant’s work:

Van Sant understands that filmmaking is the ultimate expression of D.E—you have to keep doing things until you get them right. After Mala Noche (1986), his first feature, he made three more shorts before rejoining Burroughs with Drugstore Cowboy (1989). With films like Elephant (Palme D’or Winner), Milk (Oscar Winner) and Last Days (basically just awesome) he seems to be onto something.

So which is more important in filmmaking, capturing truth or making art? Surely, each filmmaker has a different goal. Another blogger, Patrick Zimmerman, discusses the film and its example of the charade that Van Sant seems to make of human emotion.

Doing Easy yields neither an easy nor relaxed life, but rather an obsessive-compulsive pathology, most clearly manifested in a socially deadly form of isolation of affect.

Both of these are valid analyses, and helped me to better understand the goals of anti-Hollywood short filmmakers.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

March 2, 2011 at 11:32 pm

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